Today, I am happy to welcome Alessandro Magarini. Alessandro has driven public relations plans and marketing lead generation activities across several communication agencies in Europe in the technology, finance, sport, leisure, and retail industries. Alessandro brings deep expertise in the IT sector, having worked for more than six years for VMware, the global leader in virtualization and now leading the UK office of Gutenberg, an integrated marketing & PR agency that strongly focuses on the technology space.
In this interview, I have asked Alessandro to provide his perspective about the relationship between technology, public relations and media, and what are the leadership lessons we can all learn from his experience.
Based on your experience of working with tech founders and executives, what do you think are their main challenges to grow their awareness of media?
Growing tech leaders’ awareness of media is always a delicate matter that requires a lot of dedication and consistency. From my own experience, the following are perhaps the most common challenges to overcome.
Reluctance to receive public exposure. We tend to believe that this is a sign of shyness or introversion, but that’s not always the case. Having big confidence in their brand, some executives may not understand the real value and ROI of PR. You may think: I have a strong network, people know me, my brand is strong, why do I need to talk to media while I could be investing my time doing some real business? The answer is simple: media can inject your words with a much higher level of credibility, reach and power.
Allocation of time. Projects get stuck in a bottleneck if one or more of the key players struggle to find time to approve content or plans; very often this results in losing the opportunity. Every single project, small or large, needs a plan and rigorous execution, and the role of PR consultants is to help business executives deliver the best results. PR works as a ‘two-way street’ and needs time investment to ensure opportunities are capitalised upon in a timely manner.
Complexity. By this, I mean the ability to make difficult topics sound simple, engaging and relevant to the wider audience. Think of AI, machine learning, algorithms, coding, etc. This technology is complex and it’s even harder to explain how it works in relatable terms. What is the winning formula? Avoiding technicisms? Keeping a very high-level conversation? Or stimulating journalists’ appetite with lots of stats, data, and references? It all depends on the nature of the media, its target and the end goal of the campaign.
Tech leaders don’t always communicate with impact. Does this resonate with your experience? If so, how do you normally approach this challenge to get the most out of their expertise?
While much depends on the level of experience of individual tech leaders, their company’s culture and communication strategy training, there are nevertheless some common pain points:
- The most common mistake is thinking about what you would like to say instead of what your audience would like to hear. Is there something that’s extremely relevant to the media? Say it. Are you dying to say something that really interests you but won’t have any effect on your audience? Don’t say it
- Not showing enthusiasm for your job or business. Why should I believe that your business – or the news you are communicating – is exciting and I should publish it if you are not showing passion for it? Becoming an influencer and effective communicator requires self-awareness, and takes practice on tone and style
- Saying things that have not been approved in advance, such as mentioning facts, naming customers or expressing personal opinions on public matters. It’s hard to go back later and retract it. History is full of scandals due to such mistakes, committed by professional communicators and even politicians. My advice is – never rush to fill a gap in the conversation. If in doubt, don’t be afraid to pause or say “I’ll need to get back to you on that”
- The absence of practical and tangible examples. There is a lot of buzz around Tech for Good. How can technology help make this world better, solving some of the biggest modern challenges? Well, if you think your technology is ‘good’, be proactive and say it loud, give practical examples, and create good case studies. This is the way to build truly attention-grabbing, compelling stories
- A short-distance view and dealignment with the key business priorities. As a VP or a CEO, you need to have a clear view on where your company wants to go. Are you looking to consolidate or change your positioning in the market? Technology has a short life. If a company is not able to reinvent its business, it will implode. You need to drive that long-distance vision if you want to be called a ‘visionary’
The best way to approach these challenges is to constantly think ahead. I try to be very honest with my clients about areas of improvement and work together with them to get to the expected results.
In my coaching practice, I often help leaders to build their influence in their organisation. Given you also do that, but with a different goal, what are the main challenges you face in helping them to be more confident and influential in front of the public?
When you have a critical role in your organisation, you become responsible for representing and protecting the company’s image but also you must think of your influence within the organisation and with your stakeholders. That’s why in our agency, for instance, we consider media training as extremely important. We educate leaders on how to speak publicly and how to overcome their biggest challenges, such as lack of confidence. We then monitor their improvements and continuously provide them with feedback, suggestions, and guidance.
Great speakers are not always great influencers. You can be good at attracting people’s attention, but you may lack engagement skills, or you may find it difficult to cultivate and maintain relationships. A good PR professional is able to calibrate strengths and weaknesses to emphasise the former and eliminate the latter.
Given the global challenge to raise employee engagement, how does your work contribute to keeping your clients’ employees engaged and support their internal communication plans?
By supporting key spokespeople within the company with content and marketing initiatives, I help them engage not only externally but internally too, which is a key part of a successful long-term communications programme. In our agency, we always consult with our clients to help them define and develop their employee value proposition to better connect with the organisation and increase engagement and productivity. Finally, we help leaders instill a sense of pride and achievement in employees – in the era of Glassdoor and social media, reputations can be made or broken online within minutes.
However, even more important than that is recognising the significance of wellbeing. By putting employees first, you help them to feel a greater level of job satisfaction, positively impact retention, and make sure that they feel heard and receive the right type of training and development. Overall, this leads to a more productive, creative, happy workforce, which translates into a successful business. Truly listening to your employees can result in extraordinary and disruptive breakthroughs within your organisation, which are the food for innovation.
Over the course of my career, I have also conducted alignment sessions between marketing and sales teams and have seen positive energy that this collaboration can bring. It generates new ideas and stimulates a proactive problem-solving attitude, through cooperation and inclusion.
Thank you, Alessandro.
Interviewed by Andrea Petrone – Leadership Advisor, Executive, and Business Coach